The "MVP! MVP!" chants are loud and common. At various arenas peppered throughout the country, tens of thousands of fans are invested in the closest, most intriguing MVP race of this generation.
The headline of this MVP race is Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the two best basketball players in the world putting on dominating performances in opposite conferences. The resurgence of the hallowed-Celtics made Kevin Garnett the early season favorite.
Chris Paul has commanded the embryonic Hornets to a top spot in the toughest West ever. Tracy McGrady has thrust himself into the conversation by virtue of his team's historic 22 game winning streak.
The debate is heated, with opinions from all viewpoints boiling over on thousands of sports websites and TV shows. The debate, however, is a mute point. Looking at history it's easy to see what the NBA regular season MVP award has become and what it is not.
The NBA MVP award is not an "Outstanding Individual Performance" award. It's not an Oscar for the "Best Actor in a Lead Role." The NBA MVP award requirement is simple; it goes to the best player on the best team, assuming that player is having a career year. Let's look at the MVP award winners from the past 25 years:
|Year||Player||Wins||Winner of their...|
To win the MVP your team must almost always win the conference, but at least your division, and your team must win a ton of games. Generally in the high 50's, often times in the 60's.
In fact, the MVP's team over the last 25 years has averaged 62 wins on the season. The lone exception was Michael Jordan in 1988 who didn't win his conference or division, but still had an outstanding year and won 50 games.
Per those requirements, it's easy to see who be this season's NBA MVP:
Tracy McGrady: The Rockets' streak is mind blowing and possibly the longest win streak you or I will see in our lifetimes. Their inspiring teamwork has them in a stratosphere occupied only by the Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West led Lakers of 1972. Coach Rick Adelman should get serious Coach of the Year consideration and the Rockets deserve the "Best Teamwork" award, but T-Mac is actually having his quietest individual season since his Toronto days.
Bottom line: Great team record, not having a career year.
Kevin Garnett: Individual stats don't tell the whole story. Kevin Garnett's presence has transformed the Boston Celtic's like night to day. You could take a before and after picture of the Celtics that would be as stunning as any change on The Biggest Loser. In this case, Danny Ainge and the fans in Boston are the biggest winners, landing the Big Ticket and resurrecting the most storied franchise in basketball. However, he has elevated his team so high that for the first time in his career he doesn't have to do it all and that, ironically, is why he won't win MVP.
Bottom line: MVP-type team record, not having a career year.
LeBron James: He won't win it for the same reason Kobe couldn't win it the last two years; he is willing his undermanned team to victory with dominating performances night in and night out, but unfortunately his team's record isn't good enough. With his team sitting seven games behind Orlando (and 11 games behind the division leading Pistons) the Cavs will end up as the fourth seed in a watered down east. And they would have to go 12-2 in their final 14 games just to reach 50 wins, yet the Cavs as a team don't even have a positive point differential.
LeBron is having the most impressive individual season in the NBA and should own the league for the next 12 years. Michael Jordan won six championships and five MVPs. I have no doubt that LeBron will do that same when all is said and done, with an even bigger marketing campaign.
Bottom line: MVP-type individual season, but the team record is not good enough.
Chris Paul: The Hornets are one of the biggest, most pleasant, surprises of the season. Chris Paul may be the most dynamic, effective player in the NBA. That may sound crazy, but have you seen him play? He absolutely controls the game with his masterful command of the ball, going where he wants and doing whatever he wants when he wants. And he has played better as the season has gone on, averaging 18 and 10 on 48% shooting (38% three-pointers) in November to 26 and 14 on 59% shooting (48% three-pointers) this month.
Playing the starting point guard on Team USA after his rookie year (to the high praise of his teammates) was just the beginning. The Hornets are for real. They're legit. They own a great home record, a great road record, and a great conference record. Oft times young players are likened to NBA legends prematurely and without merit, but in Paul's case, "Little Isiah" is right on the money.
Bottom line: Great team record, having a career year, deserving of MVP.
Kobe Bryant: Accepted as the best all around player in the game on both ends of the court, Kobe has been the NBA's best individual performer the last two seasons. Without going into theatrics about Kobe's career, super stardom, dark years, or the Lakers speedy rebuilding back to contention, I will cap this segment by reminding you that the MVP is not a fair award.
Although it is meant to celebrate a single individual season, Kobe's career accomplishments will factor in. There is a large contingent of fans who believe he should have won the award at least once in the past two years but, even more so, there's a universal sentiment that the best player in the game needs to win the game's highest individual honor, at least once.
Bottom line: Great team record, great individual season, deserving of MVP.
Following the established pattern, the 2008 NBA MVP award will come down to Kobe or Chris Paul, and whoever ends up with the No. 1 seed in the West is deserving of that honor. However, Kobe gets the edge due to career and sentimental reasons.